“Sheri, at This Very Moment” is a bittersweet piece about a family clinging to moments with a terminally ill parent. It is insightful, powerful, and raw. The author, Bianca Sayan, shows the beauty of a technology that could freeze our loved ones, crystallizing them between perfect moments: college graduations, weddings. She also shows the dark side, right in the opening. “So, she’s asking me, straight away: good or bad?”
In the end, Sheri and her spouse don’t seem to feel any peace, or even any release, despite enjoying their time together. It leaves me wondering what choice I would prefer—both in Sheri’s shoes and her wife’s. I think that like them, many of us would try to bottle time, doling it out day by day.
The author took time to answer a few questions about the story and its themes.
APEX MAGAZINE: The question of medical technology and the extension of life is a controversial one. Sheri seems uncomfortable with it at times. In the end, the narrator is comfortable with their decision. Do you believe Sheri is making the right choice?
BIANCA SAYAN: The alternative is that Sheri would not have been there to see her children grow up. I am not one of those people that finds life extension distasteful, but I do find prioritizing it over universal medical health care distasteful. Science fiction lets us have that conversation now about how our lives could be different for the better in the future, even if we should address disparity and climate change first before we can have the things in this story.
AM: The idea of living life a sliver at a time is fascinating. What were your inspirations for this piece?
BS: The inspiration was probably the breakneck pace at which CRISPR-driven cures are blooming and the eternal desire to somehow protect the people you love from death. One of the things that twists my heart right now is the people that are sick with diseases that are only months from a cure. For these people and their families, it’s a perverse, horrible race.
AM: I think my favorite part of your story is this line: “But it’s a distillation of our love, into something functional and desperate, focused on just being together.” It sums up the story for me. Did the themes of the piece come first or did they spring up from the writing?
BS: I looked back in my notes and found this original scribble: “A woman is sick. Her husband freezes her but pulls her out for the milestones until she can be cured.” Everything else beyond those two sentences sprung up from the writing. But in those notes are embedded a desire to explore that can’t-bear-your-death love, a love that survives as long as that person persists in the world. Since I’ve given birth, the themes in this story have become all the more intense.
AM: You work to make government more open and accessible. What do you see as the role of government in end-of-life care? What about the regulation of technology like the kind keeping Sheri alive?
BS: In Canada, we’ve recently legalized medical assistance in dying, but I’m personally more preoccupied with the opposite, a more fair and complete distribution of life-preserving care. In Canada, the government IS responsible for your care, which makes it all the more unfair that quality of care can be so variable. Depending on who you are and where you are, your access to care, and whether you are considered at end-of-life, is different. You want the people who are treating your loved ones to consider their work a sacred duty and value their lives as much as you do. Tasha in this story has access to this kind of care, the kind of care that treats Sheri’s life as sacred and precious.
AM: Your story, “Extrasolar Redundancy in the Nova Tortuga Model of Preservation for Dermchochelys coriacea” (Analog, September/October 2021) is concerned with the use (and challenges) of technology in the preservation and protection of something precious, too. What do you see as the role of technology in ecological preservation? Is there a balance to be struck between human intervention and withdrawal?
BS: The inspiration for that story was the difficulties that conservationists have had in preserving turtle populations now. And if turtle habitats disappear, there’s very little conservationists will be able to do. We won’t be able to build them their own ocean. I started to think about what we could do in the future to rectify that. But this goes beyond the effects of climate change. Even as Earth goes through “natural” climate changes in the future, I imagine we’ll take a conservationist mindset and want to preserve species as long as we can, even if their previous habitat is gone.
AM: Neither story seems to herald a warning for such technological interventions, unlike some science fiction. Your stories seem almost optimistic for the intersection of technology and nature. What do you hope happens over the coming decades in regards to climate change, technology, and humanity?
BS: I am optimistic, but I’m not strictly technophilic. I think processes like scientific inquiry are our strength and problem-solving through those processes will lead as much to pedagogical, cultural, traditional, and economic solutions as technological ones. I’m very optimistic for us to continue to internalize this way of thinking to figure out how to mobilize a population to demand evidence-based decision-making in their governments, to engineer more robust democracies, to build stable, equitable societies.